(A new unpublished essay/story today about my cab ride with Max Bran, a San Francisco musician.)
When I met Max Bran he was driving a taxi in San Francisco. It was an old beat-up taxi, a clunker. It was raining and I decided to splurge on a cab because I had been waiting for a bus for quite a long time, and it was late at night, and I was in a part of town that didn’t seem so good now that it was nearing midnight. I usually ride buses in cities when I travel because it’s a good way to get to know a city, and also to observe the people who really live there.
I am a person who can’t tolerate silence in a cab unless I ascertain right away that the cab driver does not speak English. This particular night I was sort of dejected because my agent had just that afternoon told me she didn’t think she was the right agent for me. She had been my agent for seven years and had never sold my short story collection or any potential books that I had outlined and was in the process of working on. I was secretly glad that she had finally brought up this idea of separation because I knew I would never have had the guts to do it myself. I was still hurt though because she was really my only connection to the literary world in New York City, if such a relationship – one in which nothing had happened – could be considered a connection.
I tried to be optimistic about the whole thing. What I really need is a cheerleader for my work, not someone who is lukewarm, or even worse – negative, I told myself and a few select friends. I said to whoever would listen that I just don’t respond well to negativity. Most people agreed that this was a good trait – not responding well to negativity. These are all people who have said they really like my work. I had published short stories in three literary journals, and had had encouraging rejections from many others. This had to count for something. It was just a matter of keeping at it, honing my craft, and then finding this person – this agent – who with her belief in my talent, would sell my short story collection and then work a deal for my novel. I was on page seventy-five of my novel and had been for three years.
Max was the first to speak. Maybe he couldn’t tolerate silence either. I hadn’t had a good look at his face because he was driving, and he kind of tossed the words over his shoulder at me as though he was testing the water. He probably had some passengers who didn’t like to converse with cab drivers. After I gave him the name of the hotel where I was staying he asked me where I was from. I told him Chicago and he said that was one of his favorite cities. I asked him if he had ever lived there, and he said he had played some gigs there. So naturally I asked him if he was a musician, and he said yes, but he had to drive a cab because even though he was in his fifties he still didn’t make enough from his music to support himself. This seemed sad to me until I remembered I was in the same boat. I had never supported myself solely from my writing either.
“Do you still keep at it though?” I asked. He had longish hair and a hawkish profile and a sort of fleshy energy I found appealing. I had a husband but I still loved talking to men and have always had many male friends.
“Oh, yes. I’ve played with some of the greats.” He seemed reluctant to say more. Maybe he didn’t want to brag, maybe he was embarrassed to be driving a cab at his age. I don’t care what people do though. I never have. He adjusted the rear view mirror so he could get a better view of me and then seemed to make some sort of decision. I’m not a bad looking woman for fifty-seven.
I waited a beat. “Like who?” I asked. “What kind of music are we talking about here?”
“Blues, mostly. I sing and play the piano. Been playing music in clubs here since the 60s. I’ve played with Canned Heat, Country Joe, Charlie Musselwhite. Lots more. Mostly I write songs though. I guess that’s my main thing: writing songs.”
“I’m a writer too,” I said. I liked being in a cab in the middle of the night with Max Bran. In the rain San Francisco seemed even more mysterious and wonderful. During the past few days I had decided I could live here. I wondered if my husband would agree to this new idea. Why should I abide one more winter in Chicago?
“Really?” He turned his head to look at me, and I smiled at him. “What do you write?”
“Short fiction mostly. But I’m working on a novel. So tell me, Max Bran, why do you keep going?”
“Because that is what I’m good at,” he said sadly. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still at it. I mean, I’m driving a fucking cab in my fifties. Maybe I should have done something else, right, but what?”
The nose of the cab was pointing straight down one of San Francisco’s famous hills. The rain blurred the city lights so that it looked like we were driving through an Edward Hopper painting. Max Bran slowed and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.
Suddenly I wanted more than anything in the world for Max Bran to make it big. Why shouldn’t he? Even with his slightly hooked nose and his jowls and his shaggy, grayish hair he had a certain appeal. A rakish aura that had always drawn me to a man, although I never could have married him. I wouldn’t even have an affair with him, nevertheless I fell slightly in love with him right there in that cab on a rainy night in San Francisco while Janis Joplin wailed her heart out on the radio and we passed Golden Gate Park and I thought how much fun the seventies were and how I would never be young and beautiful like that again, but I was glad I had been. Right at that moment it seemed enough.